America's Sports Obsession

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A sport is a physical activity that people engage in for recreation, usually according to a set of rules, and often in competition with each other. However, such a simple definition does not capture the passion many Americans feel for their favorite sports. Sports are the recreational activity of choice for a huge portion of the U.S. population, both as spectators and as participants in sporting competitions. When enthusiasts are not participating in sports, they are flocking to the nation's arenas and stadiums to watch their favorite athletes play or tuning in to see games and matches broadcast on television. Table 1.1 gives a sport-by-sport view of spectator interest in the United States, based on polling data from the Gallup Organization examining percentages of the population identifying themselves as at least "somewhat" of a fan of each sport.

There are two broad categories of sports: professional and amateur. A professional athlete is paid to participate; an amateur athlete is one who participates merely as a pastime, not for pay. The word amateur comes from the Latin word for "love," suggesting that an amateur athlete plays simply because he or she loves the game.


Sports participation is difficult to measure because there are many different levels of participation, from backyard games to organized leagues, but analysts continue to refine research methods. The most direct approach is through surveys. One of the most extensive regular surveys is the Superstudy of Sports Participation (, which is conducted annually by American Sports Data Inc. (ASD). The information collected by ASD is analyzed by organizations such as the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA). Chapter 2 contains detailed information from the Superstudy as well as from other surveys of sports participation.

Table 1.2 ranks sports by total participation. According to the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA; 2007,, the trade association for sporting goods retailers, more Americans played basketball than any other team sport in 2006. The NSGA estimates that 26.7 million people aged seven and over played basketball in 2006. Other popular team sports included baseball (14.6 million participants), soccer (14 million), softball (12.4 million), tackle football (11.9 million), and volleyball (11.1 million). Even though participation in cross-country skiing experienced a dramatic 36.7% increase, most team sports showed a decline from 2005 to 2006. Participation in basketball, soccer, softball, and volleyball all declined, whereas hockey participation grew by 6% and tackle football participation increased by 19.7% from 2005 to 2006.

Americans love to participate in individual sports as well. The NSGA estimates that 44.8 million Americans went bowling in 2006, making it the most popular of all competitive sports nationally. (See Table 1.2.) In 2007 Sports & Fitness Participation Report (2007,, the SGMA also identifies bowling as the most popular competitive sport and estimates the number of participants even higher, at about 54.3 million Americans in 2006. Billiards is also exceedingly popular as a recreational sport, though its appeal has decreased in recent years. According to the NSGA, 31.8 million people shot pool in the United States in 2006, which was a 9.8% decline from 2005. (See Table 1.2.) Proprietors of bowling and billiards facilities are attempting to overcome a seedy reputation to draw in a new generation of enthusiasts.

The SGMA notes in 2007 Sports & Fitness Participation Report that 28.7 million Americans went golfing

SportPercentage of Americans who are fans
Professional football (Dec. 2005)59
College football (July 2006)45
Professional baseball (Dec. 2006)41
Figure skating (Dec. 2004)41
Professional basketball (Dec. 2004)38
Professional golf (January 2007)36
College basketball (April 2006)35
Auto racing (July 2006)31
Professional tennis (Dec. 2004)24
Professional ice hockey (Dec. 2004)23
Professional or college soccer (June 2006)19
Professional wrestling (Dec. 2004)10

in 2006. Most golf rounds were played by a core of 17.2 million adults who golfed at least eight times per year. Tennis, while less popular now than at its peak in the late 1980s, has been enjoying a comeback in the 2000s. In 2006 about 14.6 million people got out on U.S. tennis courts.

An interesting transition is taking place in youth sports participation. Generally, participation among youth in traditional team sports has been declining for several years. One exception is soccer, which is becoming a major sport in the United States. An increasing number of young Americans are also opting for extreme sports such as snowboarding. Golf has also enjoyed an increase in participation among youth since the mid-1990s, as has lacrosse, a modern game derived from a Native American competition that became popular among French pioneers in Canada. U.S. Lacrosse reports in the U.S. Lacrosse Participation Survey 2006 (2007, that 426,022 people played lacrosse in 2006, compared with 253,931 in 2001, and that over the previous decade the number of people playing lacrosse nationally had increased more than 10% per year.

Another way to gauge interest in sports is by examining how much money people spend on equipment. According to the NSGA, U.S. consumers spent more than $24 billion on sporting goods in 2006. Table 1.3 shows consumer purchases of sporting goods broken down by sport.


Besides participation, another measure of interest in sports is the number of people who attend games in

SportTotalPercent change
Note: Percent change is from 2005.
na=Not surveyed in 2004.
Exercise walking87.51.70%
Exercising with equipment52.43.40%
Camping (vacation/overnite)48.65.70%
Workout at club36.96.50%
Bicycle riding35.613.30%
Aerobic exercising33.70.00%
Weight lifting32.91.90%
Boating, motor/power29.36.20%
Hunting with firearms17.88.30%
Target shooting17.114.10%
Backpack/wilderness camp13.30.40%
Football (tackle)11.919.70%
In-line roller skating10.520.00%
Scooter riding9.58.50%
Mountain biking (off road)8.57.20%
Paintball games80.20%
Skiing (alpine)6.47.30%
Water skiing6.36.60%
Hunting with bow & arrow5.911.60%
Target shootingairgun5.615.70%
Muzzle loading3.78.70%
Skiing (cross country)2.636.70%
Hockey (ice)2.66.00%

person. Sports attendance in the United States is dominated by the four major team sports: baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. In professional team sports, attendance is affected by two main factors: the size of the market in which the team plays and the team's current success. Big-city teams and winning teams typically draw bigger crowds than small-town teams and losing teams.

Major League Baseball (MLB) reports in the press release "Major League Baseball's Record Attendance Tops 76 Million"(October 2, 2006, that just over seventy-six million people attended MLB games during the 2006 regular season, setting a new all-time high for the third straight year. Average attendance at an MLB game was nearly

Archery$ 398.3$ 372.1
Baseball & softball$ 402.0$ 372.4
Basketball$ 312.3$ 309.3
Billiards & indoor games$ 570.9$ 572.3
Bowling$ 181.5$ 183.5
Camping$ 1,534.6$ 1,446.5
Exercise$ 5,226.4$ 5,176.6
Fishing tackle$ 2,218.9$ 2,138.9
Football$ 101.3$ 95.2
Golf$ 3,662.0$ 3,465.5
Helmets, sport protective$ 159.1$ 153.3
Hockey & ice skates$ 142.2$ 138.5
Hunting & firearms$ 3,708.7$ 3,563.4
Optics$ 1,013.9$ 886.9
Racquetball$ 40.9$ 45.4
Skin diving & scuba gear$ 369.0$ 358.3
Snow skiing$ 615.0$ 642.7
Snowboarding$ 278.4$ 301.0
Soccer balls$ 74.3$ 66.5
Tennis$ 419.8$ 397.1
Volleyball & badminton sets$ 30.8$ 32.1
Water skis$ 43.5$ 42.2
Wheel sports$ 411.3$ 407.7
Athletic goods team sales$ 2,618.9$ 2,567.5
       Total equipment$24,472.0$23,688.1

thirty-one thousand. According to the press release "NBA Sets All-Time Attendance Records" (April 19, 2007,, the National Basketball Association (NBA) also set a new season attendance record during the 200607 regular season, drawing 21.8 million spectators to its arenas, for an average of 17,757 per game. Professional football set a new record for the 2006 regular season as well. The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) indicates in "NFL Attendance Report2006" (2006, that the total paid attendance for the National Football League (NFL) was 17.6 million, with an average paid attendance of 68,773 per game. The National Hockey League (NHL) has rebounded since its 200405 season was canceled due to a labor dispute. ESPN reports in "NHL Attendance Report2007" (2007, that attendance in 200607 was 20.8 million, for an average of 16,956 per game, a new league record.

The other big sports draw in the United States is auto racing. The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), the nation's major stock car racing circuit, has experienced substantial growth in attendance over the last decade, though data from ESPN suggest that there was a drop-off in both attendance and television ratings for NASCAR races in 2006. Chapter 2 presents more detailed discussion of major sports attendance in the United States.


Team Sports

Throughout most of the twentieth century professional team sports in the United States meant baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. However, since the 1990s soccer has been gaining popularity and is often included in discussions of professional sports in the United States. Detailed information on professional team sports is provided in Chapter 4.

MLB has long been considered "America's national pastime." MLB, according to their Web site (2007,, consists of thirty teams, divided into the sixteen-team National League and the fourteen-team American League. Each league is in turn divided into three divisions. The MLB season consists of 162 games, running from early April through late September, followed by playoffs and finally the championship series known as the World Series. According to Plunkett Research, in "Sports Industry Overview" (2007,, MLB was a $5.2 billion industry in 2006.

The premier professional football league in the United States is the NFL. Plunkett Research reports in "Sports Industry Overview" that the NFL generated league-wide revenue of $5.9 billion during the 200607 season, making it the richest of the major sports. There are thirty-two teams in the NFL (2007,, divided into two conferences: the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). The NFC and AFC are each divided into four divisions. NFL teams play a sixteen-game season, which begins around Labor Day. It ends with a single-elimination playoff series, culminating in the Super Bowl in early February. The Super Bowl is the biggest sporting event in the country in terms of viewing audience. The NFL reports in "Colts-Bears Draws No. 3 Audience of All-Time" August 7, 2007, that 93.2 million viewers tuned in to the 2007 Super Bowl, making it the third-most-watched television show of all time, behind only the 1996 Super Bowl and the final episode of the sitcom M*A*S*H.

The NBA (2007,, the top professional basketball league in the country, consists of thirty teams split into the Eastern and Western Conferences. Each conference has three divisions within it. The NBA season, which lasts for eighty-two regular-season games, begins in early November. The regular season is followed by the NBA playoffs, which begin in April. In "Sports Industry Overview," Plunkett Research notes that the NBA generated $3.1 billion in revenue during the 200607 season, placing it behind both football and baseball. Unlike football and baseball, however, basketball has a women's professional league, the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA). There are thirteen teams in the WNBA. They play a thirty-four-game regular season, after which the top four teams in each conference compete in the championship playoffs. Thomas Heath notes in "A Matter of Value Instead of Profit" (Washington Post, July 12, 2006) that unlike any of the major men's professional sports, the WNBA loses money, though league officials expressed hope that the league would turn its first profit in 2007.

The top professional hockey league in North America is the NHL, which actually encompasses two countries, the United States and Canada, and is arguably more popular in the latter. The NHL (2007, consists of thirty teams, divided into Eastern and Western Conferences. These conferences are in turn broken into three divisions each. The NHL season, like that of the NBA, is eighty-two games long. It is followed by the Stanley Cup playoffs, which ultimately determine the NHL champion. The NHL has struggled for more than a decade. Even before the entire 200405 season was canceled due to a labor strike, the league's popularity was in decline. In the two seasons since the strike, interest in the NHL has rebounded some. According to Plunkett Research, in "Sports Industry Overview," league-wide revenue was about $2.2 billion in the 200607 season, considerably less than any of the other major team sports.

Even though only hockey has experienced a labor dispute that resulted in cancellation of an entire season, each of these sports is occasionally subject to disputes that threaten their continuity and that sometimes result in cancellation of part of a season. Labor disagreements in professional sports often pit the league, which represents the interests of the team owners, against the players, who are represented by a labor union.

Individual Sports

Team sports get most of the media attention in the United States, but professional sports that feature individual competitors are also of considerable interest.

The premier golf tour in the United States and in the world is the PGA Tour (2007,, which in 2007 consisted of forty-four official events offering more than $280 million in total prize money. The PGA Tour organization also runs a developmental tour called the Nationwide Tour and a tour for senior players called the Champions Tour. There are several other prominent regional professional golf tours based in other countries. Women's professional golf has a similar structure. The most prominent women's tour is the LPGA Tour, which is operated by the Ladies Professional Golf Association, and there are several other regional women's tours around the world.

Men's professional tennis is coordinated primarily by two organizations: the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), which operates the worldwide ATP Tour; and the International Tennis Federation, which coordinates the four international events that make up the Grand Slam of tennis. The 2007 ATP Tour (2007, included sixty-four tournaments in thirty-one countries. Women's professional tennis is organized by the Women's Tennis Association, which runs the premier women's tour, currently sponsored by Sony Ericsson. According to the tour's official Web site (2007,, the 2007 Sony Ericsson Tour included sixty-two events in thirty-five countries, in which fourteen hundred players representing seventy-five nations competed for $62 million in total prize money.

Auto racing has enjoyed a huge surge in popularity in the United States since the mid-1990s. The most important racing circuit for stock carswhich resemble ordinary cars externallyis NASCAR. NASCAR (2007, sanctions more than fifteen hundred races per year at more than one hundred tracks in thirty-eight states, plus Canada and Mexico.

The other major type of race car is the open-wheeled racer. There are two main open-wheeled racing circuits in the United States: the Indy Racing League (IndyCar) and the Champ Car Series. The 2007 IndyCar Series (2007, featured seventeen races between March and September, most in the United States with one in Japan; the 2007 Champ Car Series (2007, included seventeen races in the United States, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Europe, and China.

Boxing is unique among professional sports in that it has no single commission that regulates or monitors it nationwide. A number of organizations sanction professional boxing matches, including the World Boxing Association, the World Boxing Council, the World Boxing Organization, and the International Boxing Federation. Each follows its own set of regulations, employs its own officials, and acknowledges its own champions. A fighter can be recognized as champion by more than one organization simultaneously. Professional boxing in the United States has been plagued by corruption over the years, including tainted judging and fixed fights. Nevertheless, devoted fans tune in regularly to watch boxing on pay cable networks, and gamblers wager millions on the outcomes of boxing contests, injecting huge sums of money into the industry.


For American sports enthusiasts, it is hard to separate the sports from the media industry that surrounds all aspects of professional and elite amateur sports. Leagues, teams, promoters, organizations, and schools make money through lucrative media contracts that give television networks the rights to broadcast sporting events over the public airwaves. For a full discussion of the intersection of sports and media, see Chapter 3.

The History of Sports on Television

The history of sports on television began with the 1939 broadcast of a college baseball game between Columbia and Princeton universities. Five years later the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports televised by the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) became the first network-wide television sports show. When single-company sponsorship became too expensive during the mid-1960s, sports programming developed a new model in which different companies bought advertising spots throughout the program.

The amount of sports programming and the amount of money in televised sports has continued to grow quickly since then. In "Sports and Television" (2004,, the Museum of Broadcast Communications states that in 1970 the networks paid $50 million for the rights to broadcast NFL games, $18 million for MLB games, and $2 million for NBA games. By 1985 these totals had grown to $450 million, $160 million, and $45 million, respectively. In the 1980s the addition of cable television outlets extended the reach of televised sports even further. However, television ratings for the four major team sports generally declined during the 1990s as competition for the same audience arose from other viewing options.

Major Sports on Television

In the 1950s baseball was the most popular televised sport. Since then, however, it has lost a large share of its audience to other sports, particularly football. Even though television ratings for World Series broadcasts declined for several years, they rebounded after 2002, but sank again after peaking in 2004. In "The Cardinals Won? Series Averages Record-Low Ratings" (October 29, 2006,, ESPN notes that the 2006 World Series had a 10.1 rating (meaning 10.1% of all households were tuned in) and 17.0 share (meaning 17% of those watching something were watching the World Series). In Sports Business Resource Guide & Fact Book (2007,,117.pdf), the SportsBusiness Journal indicates that MLB has a $2.4 billion broadcast contract with ESPN that runs through the 2013 season.

Monday night
  • 8 years, 200613
  • $1.1 billion per year
  • No Super Bowls
Sunday night
  • 6 years, 200611
  • $600 million per year
  • Super Bowls in 2009 and 2012
Sunday afternoon NFC (National Football Conference)
  • 6 years, 200611
  • $712.5 million per year
  • Super Bowls in 2008 and one other year during deal
Sunday afternoon AFC (American Football Conference)
  • 6 years, 200611
  • $622.5 million per year
  • Super Bowls in 2007 and one other year during deal
Sunday Ticket satellite
  • 5 years, 200610
  • $700 million per year
  • No Super Bowls

Well before the close of the twentieth century, football had supplanted baseball as the reigning king of televised sports. In 2001 ESPN Information Please Sports Almanac (2000), Gerry Brown and Michael Morrison state that, as of the turn of the century, five of the ten top-rated television shows of all time had been sports programs, and four of those were Super Bowls. Several more Super Bowl broadcasts were in the top twenty. As mentioned previously, Super Bowl XLI of 2007 became the third-most-watched program of all time, and Paul R. La Monica reports in "CBS Scores with Super Bowl Ratings" (, February 5, 2007) that Super Bowl XLI drew a 42.0 rating. The NFL signed a new round of television deals in April 2005, the most lucrative being a $1.1 billion contract resulting in the move of Monday Night Football from American Broadcasting Company (ABC) to ESPN beginning in 2006. (See Table 1.4.) The NFL received hundreds of millions of additional dollars from Fox, Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), and NBC for various subsets of the NFL schedule.

Regular-season NBA basketball has never drawn as big a viewing audience as the NFL hasprobably because there are so many more gamesbut viewership expands significantly during the playoffs. Of the major sports, the NHL is struggling the most to maintain its television audience. Even at its peak, hockey drew far fewer viewers than the other major sports, and the cancellation of the 200405 season hurt the NHL further. At the other extreme, NASCAR has enjoyed a surge in its television audience in the 2000s, including an increased female audience and broader viewership in the Pacific Northwest and other regions of the country that have not traditionally favored auto racing.


College Sports

Most college sports take place under the auspices of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). In Composition & Sport Sponsorship of the NCAA (March 1, 2007,, the NCAA explains that it is a voluntary association with a membership of about 1,250 colleges, college athletic conferences, and other organizations and individuals. The NCAA is divided into Divisions I, II, and III based on size, athletic budget, and related variables. Division I is further divided into three subdivisions, I-A, I-AA, and I-AAA. I-AAA includes schools that have substantial sports programs but do not field a football team. Within the NCAA many major sports colleges are grouped into conferences, which function like the divisions and leagues in professional sports.

According to the NCAA's annual Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rates Report (May 2007,, more than 393,000 student-athletes participated in championship sports at NCAA member schools during the 200506 season. The average NCAA institution had about 375 athletes214 men and 161 women. However, women's teams actually outnumbered men's teams. Among men, the sport with the greatest number of Division I teams in 200506 was basketball. However, in terms of number of players, football was the leader. Among women, outdoor track and field had the most participants in 200304, but more colleges had women's basketball teams than had women's track and field teams.

For most of the twentieth century, men's college teams and athletes far outnumbered women's teams and athletes, and far more money went into men's sports. However, the gap has been closing, largely because of the passage in 1972 of Title IX, a law mandating gender equity in federally funded education programs. Under Title IX, girls' sports were to be funded at the same rate as sports programs for boys. Since Title IX's mandatory compliance date of 1978, women's collegiate sports have experienced explosive growth.

Much to the discomfort of some in the academic world, college sports have become big business in the United States. Spending on sports programs has been rising at a faster rate than overall institutional spending across the NCAA. Even though college sports generate substantial revenue, this revenue does not cover the cost of running the entire athletic program at the vast majority of schools, largely because only a few sportsoften only football and men's basketball programsare actually profitable. The NCAA notes in 200203 NCAA Revenues and Expenses of Divisions I and II Intercollegiate Athletics Programs Report (February 2005, that the average Division I-A athletic program had total revenues of $29.4 million and expenses of $27.2 million in 2003. Football and basketball accounted for a huge share of both revenues and expenses. A new edition of this report featuring data from 200304 through 200506 was scheduled for publication in the fall of 2007.

High School Sports

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) conducts a detailed survey of high school sports participation each year. NFHS (2007, data show that 7.1 million students participated in high school sports in the 200506 season. This total was a record high. Participation among boys was 4.2 million, whereas 2.9 million girls participated.

For years, football has been the most popular high school sport for boys. According to the 200506 NFHS High School Athletics Participation Survey, a little over one million boys played high school football during the 200506 season. Basketball was second, with 546,335 participants. Among girls, basketball was the most popular high school sport, with 452,929 participants, followed by outdoor track and field with 439,200 participants.

Analysis by the research group Child Trends of data from Lloyd D. Johnston et al.'s Monitoring the Future, National Results on Adolescent Drug Use: Overview of Key Findings, 2006 (May 2007, indicates that kids who participated in high school sports between 1991 and 2004 were less likely to engage in risky behavior and more likely to do well in school. By contrast, there is also evidence that the corrupting influence of money in big-time sports is beginning to trickle down to the high school level, including a series of reports in the New York Times in late 2005 of athletes buying diplomas and passing grades from bogus correspondence schools. The NCAA took measures in 2006 to crack down on these so-called diploma mills.

The Olympics

The concept behind the Olympic movement is to bring the world together through sports, in the spirit of

Summer gamesWinter games
AthleticsModern pentathlonCurling
BadmintonRowingIce hockey
Canoe/kayakTable tennis
GymnasticsWeight lifting

common understanding and noble competition. The Olympic games are based on an athletic festival that took place in ancient Greece from about 776 BC until AD 393. The Olympics were revived in their modern form in 1896. The Summer Olympics take place every four years, the same years in which February has twenty-nine days. According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC; 2007,, 10,625 athletes from 201 countries competed in the 2004 Summer Olympics held in Athens, Greece, and medals were awarded in 28 sports that encompassed 301 events.

The Winter Olympics also take place every four years, halfway between the summer games. The winter games are smaller than the summer games. The IOC (2007, notes that the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, featured 2,508 athletes from 80 countries, competing in 7 sports that encompassed 84 events. Table 1.5 lists the sports that currently make up the Summer and Winter Olympic games.

The founder of the modern Olympics was the French historian and educator Pierre de Coubertin (18621937). Coubertin believed that war could be averted if nations participated together in friendly athletic competition. His ideas have not proved true, but the Olympic movement has thrived anyway. The inaugural Olympic games took place in 1896 in Athens, Greece, where 241 athletes from 14 countries competed in what was the largest international sporting event in history at the time.

The winter games arose initially as an outgrowth of the summer games. A handful of winter sports were included in early versions of the Olympics. The Winter Olympics finally became their own event in 1924. Until 1992 the winter games took place the same year as the summer games; beginning in 1994 they have been held in the years halfway between the Summer Olympics.

Politics have frequently disrupted, or even canceled, the Olympics. The 1916 games were canceled because of World War I (19141918), and World War II (19391945) caused the cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 Olympics. Boycotts have also diminished the scope of the games. The U.S. team, along with sixty-four other Western nations, boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In 1984 the Soviet Union and fourteen of its allies boycotted the Olympics in Los Angeles, ostensibly because of security concerns but more realistically as a response to the Moscow boycott. Scandals related to dopingsuch as the BALCO affair described in detail in Chapter 9and briberyincluding the implication of the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake Cityhave also marred the idealistic image of international cooperation and amateur athleticism on which the Olympics were founded.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is the worldwide governing body for the Olympics. Each participating country has its own national Olympic committee (NOC), whose role is to support that nation's Olympic team and to coordinate bids by cities within their country to host the Olympics. The U.S. Olympic Committee, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is the NOC in the United States.

Individual sports are governed worldwide by International Federations, which make the rules for the events within their portfolio. On the national level, there are corresponding organizations called national governing bodies (NGBs). Some of the NGBs in the United States include USA Gymnastics, USA Swimming, and USA Track and Field. These organizations are in charge of choosing which athletes will represent the United States in that sport. In the host country the Olympic games are planned by an Organizing Committee for the Olympic games, which takes care of the logistical preparations for the Olympics.

The Olympics generates billions of dollars through a handful of marketing programs. The biggest source of money is television broadcast revenue. Other sources include corporate sponsorships, ticket sales, and sales of licensed merchandise. Chapter 7 contains detailed information about Olympic revenue. It also includes descriptions of other Olympic-style meets, such as the Special Olympics, Paralympics, and Deaflympics.


Participation in sports yields great health benefits. Many health benefits of physical activity have been well documented. Physical activity builds and maintains bones and muscles, reduces fat, reduces blood pressure, and decreases the risk of obesity and heart attacks. There is also substantial evidence that physical activity improves mental health and may help fend off depression. A number of studies, including a massive 2001 survey conducted by researchers at the University of Florida (, link sports participation with a better self-image and a healthier attitude toward one's own body. Sports participation by youth has been shown to reduce the likelihood of engaging in risky behavior, though some studies, such as "Sports Participation, Delinquency, and Substance Use among Rural African-American Girls" (August 25, 2001, by Matthew J. Taylor of the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse, have been more ambiguous on this point.

These benefits do not come without risk, however. Every year, millions of people injure themselves participating in sports. The most common sports injuries are muscle sprains and strains, ligament and tendon tears, dislocated joints, and bone fractures. The University of Chicago Medical Center indicates in "Sports Injuries" (2007, that soft tissue injuries, such as bruises, sprains, and tendonitis, account for about 95% of all sports injuries. Injuries that happen suddenly during an activity, such as those resulting from a fall, are called acute injuries, whereas injuries that occur through repeated overuse are called chronic injuries.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics' Monthly Statistical E-Letter (March 2007,, there were about 5.4 million sports injuries in the United States serious enough to require medical consultation in 2005. Bjorn Carey notes in "The Most Dangerous Sports in America" (, June 14, 2006) that in 2005 basketball, cycling, and football were the sports responsible for the greatest number of sports injuries requiring a trip to the emergency room.

Sports participation brings special hazards for children and youth. Children who are placed under severe pressure to succeed by parents, coaches, and other adults are at risk of psychological damage. The stress of ultra-competitive sports participation leads to high rates of burnout among young athletes. Pressure to perform also puts children and youth at elevated risk of physical injury, as demands are put on young bodies not yet developed enough to withstand the strain. Chapter 8 explores both the health benefits and health risks of athletic participation.


The use of prohibited substances to give an athlete an unfair advantage over other competitors is called doping. Doping has been around almost as long as sports have. Historical writings suggest that athletes were using concoctions made of herbs or psychoactive mushrooms to give themselves a competitive edge as early as the ancient Olympics.

The modern era of doping began in 1935, when injectable testosterone was first developed by scientists in Nazi Germany. Testosterone is a male hormone that occurs naturally in the body. Boosting its levels in the blood is thought to increase strength and aggressiveness.

Several decades later, anabolic steroidschemical variants of testosteronewere developed. John Ziegler (19172000), the team physician for the U.S. weightlifting squad, learned about steroids from his Soviet counterparts, and soon steroids were in wide use in the United States. By the late 1960s the IOC had compiled a list of officially banned substances, but it had no effective way to monitor steroid use.

Steroids soon spread to professional football and other sports requiring extreme strength and bulk. Professional and Olympic sports eventually developed into a kind of cat-and-mouse game between developers of performance-enhancing drugs and the governing bodies of sports that prohibited their use. The latter would invent a way to detect the latest drugs, only to discover that the former had invented a new method for avoiding detection. The issue of doping in elite athletics still remains.

One of the biggest doping scandals to date, the BALCO scandal, has been unfolding since 2003. BALCO, the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, was a California-based drug distributor. The scandal erupted in the summer of 2003, when Trevor Graham, a disgruntled track coach, provided authorities with a syringe containing a previously unknown steroid called THG. Authorities raided BALCO facilities and uncovered not only large amounts of steroids but also documents implicating a number of high-profile athletes and trainers in football, baseball, and track and field. The scandal continued to dog baseball superstar Barry Bonds (1964) in the 2007 season as he approached the all time home-run record long held by Hank Aaron (1934). Fan reaction to the prospect of Bonds holding the record was decidedly mixed, as suspicion lingered that Bonds had gotten much of the way toward this landmark with the aid of illicit substances. Professional cycling has also been hit hard by steroid scandal. Floyd Landis (1975), a 2006 Tour de France champion, tested positive for steroids, raising questions about the legitimacy of his victory. Then, just when the Tour needed to display its cleanliness the most, several more top Tour contenders failed drug tests in 2007, throwing the sport into chaos. In September 2007 Landis was stripped of his 2006 Tour title.

Steroid use has been linked to many potentially serious health problems, including liver and kidney tumors, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, severe acne, and in men, shrunken testicles. Steroid use is also associated with emotional disturbances, including violent mood swings popularly known as "roid rage."

Besides steroids, athletes turned to a number of other substances to gain an advantage before each was banned from sports. These include erythropoietin, a hormone that increases oxygen in the blood, which was at the center of a 1998 doping scandal in cycling; androstenedione, which stimulates testosterone production and was made famous by the home-run leader Mark McGwire (1963); and ephedra, an herbal stimulant that has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries.

Steroid use in youth sports has tapered off recently, after a period of explosive growth during the late 1990s and early 2000s. (See Figure 1.1.) Approximately 1.8% of twelfth gradersin2006reportedhavingusedsteroidsintheprevious year. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports in "NIDA InfoFacts: Steroids (Anabolic-Androgenic)" (March 2007, that the number of high school seniors who perceived steroids as being harmful increased from 56.8% in 2005 to 60.2% in 2006.

Chapter 9 includes more detailed information on the variety of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing substances that have been used over the years.


For millions of sports fans, the pleasure of watching a sporting event is enhanced by betting on its outcome. Even though gambling on sports (not including horse- and greyhound racing) is technically legal only in Nevada, Americans nevertheless find ways to engage in sports wagering in huge numbers, whether through small-scale office pools or via offshore Internet gambling sites of questionable legality.

Legal Sports Betting

In Nevada legal sports betting is practiced through legitimate bookmaking operations, which are often affiliated with and located in a casino. Bookmakers set the line (margin) of victory required to win the bet for each game. Football is the biggest betting draw among the major team sports. The Nevada Gaming Control Board (February 6, 2007, reports that more than $93 million was bet legally on the Super Bowl alone in 2007, a slight decrease from the $94.5 million wagered the previous year, but higher than in any other year.

While most sports gambling remains illegal, polls show that many Americans are perfectly comfortable with sports gambling, even though a relatively small percentage actually participate. According to the Pew Research Center, in Gambling: As the Take Rises, So Does Public Concern (May 23, 2006,, in 2006, 42% of respondents approved of legalized gambling on professional sports. However, only 14% had actually bet on professional sports in 2006.

Gambling on horse racing, dog racing, and jai alai (a handball-like sport popular in Florida) uses what is called the pari-mutuel system. In this type of betting, all the wagers go into a single pool, which is then split among the winners, with management taking a small share off the top. In the fact sheet "Gaming Revenue: Current-Year Data" (October 2006,, the American Gaming Association (AGA) estimates that total revenue from pari-mutuel gambling in the United States was nearly $3.7 billion in 2005.

Illegal Sports Betting

In spite of these impressive dollar amounts for both Nevada sports books and pari-mutuel gambling, these sums represent just the tip of the sports betting iceberg. Legal gambling in the United States is utterly dwarfed by illegal gambling. The AGA estimates in the fact sheet "Sports Wagering" (March 12, 2007, that Nevada sports books account for less than 1% of all sports gambling nationwide in a typical year. It is almost impossible to gauge how much money is bet on sports when illegal bets are included. Robert Macy estimates in "Ban on College Sports Betting Could Cost State Books Millions" (Las Vegas Review-Journal, May 18, 1999) that illegal sports gambling in the United States ranges from $80 billion to $380 billion per year.

The newest frontier for sports gambling is the Internet. According to Thomas Jensen, in "Internet Gambling: Does America Still Stand for Liberty?" (July 4, 2007,, Christiansen Capital Advisors, a gaming and entertainment consulting firm, estimates that about twenty-three million peopleeight million of them in the United Statesbet $5.9 billion over the Internet in 2005. There is still a fair amount of disagreement as to the legal status of online gambling, because most operations are not based in the United States. In 2006 Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which made it difficult for financial institutions to transfer funds to and from online gambling operations. Even though the full impact of the act remains to be seen, it will likely result in a reduction in sports wagering taking place over the Internet.

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America's Sports Obsession

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America's Sports Obsession